The Tarot Garden
The stunning landscape of Tuscany has inspired artists for centuries. While the region is best known for its Renaissance masters, it is something of a well-kept secret that its rolling hills are also dotted with several contemporary art parks. Italian and foreign artists such as Daniel Spoerri, Paul Fuchs and Jean-Paul Philippe have drawn inspiration from the unique environment, resulting in parks that combine art and nature in a variety of intriguing and beautiful ways. As the levels of heat and humidity in Florence creep ever higher, consider renting a car and spending a lazy day among the trees and sculptures of these green areas. Here are some of the best.
Castello di Ama
One of Tuscany's pre-eminent vineyards, nestled in the hills of the Chianti region, Castello di Ama started its Contemporary Art Project in 2000. Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti, the owners, are among the most respected wine makers in the region, and while their vineyard would be worth visiting for that reason alone, seeing the artworks integrated into the buildings and estate make it an experience you will not find anywhere else. Each year the couple commissions an artist from a different country to come to Ama to design an installation, which must integrate with the landscape or architecture to create a blend of historic and modern. One of the most interesting pieces, Sulle vigne: punti di vista (‘On wines: points of view'), is by French artist Daniel Buren: a striking 25-metre mirrored wall alongside the old castle, dotted with square windows that offer views of the surrounding countryside. The observer's position influences the perception of both the wall and the surroundings, challenging the traditional concept of landscape painting.
Villa La Magia
This Medici villa has housed a collection of contemporary environmental art since 2005 (see TF 165). In the historic garden and park, artists who have been hosted at the villa have interpreted their perception of the genius loci (the spirit of the place), such as La Fabrica della Memoria by Anne and Patrick Poirier, a structure in which to contemplate hope, love and loneliness. For families with kids to entertain, a new playground has recently opened in the grounds.
Chianti Sculpture Park
The 35 acres of woodland that comprise this park house a large selection of sculptures by international artists, most of which were made specifically for the site (see TF 18). The artists come from Africa, Asia, North and South America and Europe, and each brings to the park his or her own cultural background to combine tradition and modernity, art and nature, and Tuscany and the rest of the world. The owners, Piero and Rosalba Giadrossi, were inspired by a visit to Kirstenbosch Park near Cape Town, and opposite the park is their La Fornace Gallery, in a beautifully restored old pottery. During the summer months the newly built Amphisculpture, which seats up to 250, hosts concerts and other cultural events inside the park.
Spoerri's collection of 100 sculptural installations, 40 of which he made himself, takes advantage of the woods, plains, and views of the valley on his 16-hectare terrain (see TF 76). Many of the works are in bronze, and in some cases, you must search for them as they blend into the surrounding woods. Perhaps the most impressive work is Spoerri's careful rendering of a hotel room in Paris in the late 50s-early 60s, complete with unmade bed and unfinished food. A visit to the park, open to the public since 1997, makes for a pleasant day trip by car from Tuscany, driving over the Amiata mountains, or can be part of a weekend in this area of Maremma. Plan about three hours for this park.
The Tarot Garden
On the border between Tuscany and Lazio and so close to the sea you can smell it is a fantastical art park by Niki de Saint Phalle (see TF 76). This is as close as you can get to Gaudi in Tuscany-the artist was in fact inspired on a trip to Barcelona. And talk about inspiration! The park took almost 20 years and 5 million dollars to complete. The result is a strange landscape that could hardly be called a ‘sculpture park,' for the artist and her team have built huge structures that you can walk into and on, covered entirely in mosaics. The unifying theme of the works is the 21-card tarot deck: the Emperor, the Chariot, Death, the Star, the World, etc. The tarot was very important to the artist, but you don't have to know anything about it to enjoy the bright colours and magical land of this garden.
Tip: Many of these parks get hot in the summer and shade is not always present. Wear a sunhat and long pants, and pack sunscreen, bug spray and water.
CASTELLO DI AMA
53013 Gaiole in Chianti (SI)
By appointment only.
VILLA LA MAGIA
Via Vecchia Fiorentina 1 Tronco, 63, Quarrata (PT)
By appointment only. Tours can be booked every third Sunday of the month, and can be arranged in English for a minimum of 15 people.
CHIANTI SCULPTURE PARK
La Fornace 48/49, Pievasciata (FI)
Open daily from 10:00 am to sunset. From November to March, it is advisable to call first. Guided tours can be organised on request and are free for a minimum of 12 people.
IL GIARDINO DI DANIEL SPOERRI
Open from Easter to October 31, 11am to sundown
Pescia Fiorentina, Capalbio (GR)
Open from April 1 to October 15, 2:30 to 7:30pm.